Twenty-five years ago, master coach Denis Pagan led North Melbourne to the club's fourth VFL/AFL Premiership, sealing the deal with a Grand Final victory over Carlton. Here are 10 moments that led up to that memorable triumph.

1. Miller time

No serious discussion about North Melbourne’s rise through the 1990s can start without mentioning the name Greg Miller. The master talent spotter arrived at Arden St in late 1984 and either directly recruited or signed the first pay cheques of every player who played in the 1990s premiership sides. The double deal to finagle Wayne Carey and John Longmire from the clutches of the Sydney Swans for a figurative bag of beans was his most legendary piece of handiwork. But that was just one of many. The Kangaroos had Ron Joseph in the 1970s; in the 1990s it was Greg Miller.

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2. The triumphant return of Denis Pagan

It’s now part of North Melbourne folklore that master coach Denis Pagan answered the club's SOS following a pre-season thumping at the hands of Adelaide to become senior coach in 1993. Before that, he had mentored so many of the players who became stars of the 1990s as a wildly successful five-time U19s premiership coach. In fact, he was part coach, part recruiter, part father-figure during that time. Heading into 1999, while the team was drilled and battle-hardened through six previous finals campaigns, it still had just one flag to show for it. The season ahead would showcase some of Denis’ finest work.

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3. Draft selection No.67: Byron Pickett

The 1996 AFL Draft was a bountiful recruiting ground for the reigning premier. Martin Pike and Cameron Mooney would eventually become premiership players in 1999 but it was the kid plucked from Port Lincoln at selection No.67 by recruiter Neville Stibbard who made the biggest impact. Managing just one game in his inaugural AFL season in 1997, Pickett became an overnight sensation the following year. A big-game player, Pickett gave his side drive and an edge of menace from his favoured position at half-back. The 1998 AFL Rising Star quickly became a key weapon in Pagan’s arsenal through the premiership year.

Byron Pickett (l) with 1999 premiership teammate Craig Sholl

4. Grant, Abraham and McCartney come to Arden St

Having saluted in 1996, the Roos embarked on a recruiting spree after bombing out the following year in the preliminary final. Shannon Grant would go on to win the Norm Smith Medal in 1999; Jason McCartney – despite missing the 1999 Grand Final through suspension – became a mainstay in defence over the ensuing seasons; and Winston Abraham became a firm fan favourite, shining brightly in a unit with stars on every line. The new boys added a freshness and hunger to a team that had been at or close to the pinnacle for much of the decade.

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5. Half-time, round three: a season teeters 

Pagan’s men endured a dire start to the 1999 season, giving up an eight-goal lead to lose to Geelong in the opening round, and then never being in the hunt against the Bombers the following week. The Roos were then staring at a third straight loss after trailing by 15 points at the main break in a round-three Friday night blockbuster against Richmond at the MCG. As we would see so many times this season, the Roos had an even spread of contributors as they booted 7.8 to 4.1 in a dominant second half. Recruit Gary Dhurrkay and youngster Scott Welsh (three goals each) were the leading goalkickers for the Roos in a crucial early-season steadier.

6. The Archer stepover

The following week the Roos coughed up another big lead to drop a further four points, this time to the Swans in Sydney. Next up, a second trip to the Harbour City in a week, this time to face St Kilda. In the absence of skipper Wayne Carey, Pagan swung his versatile trump card Glenn Archer forward. The Norm Smith Medal-winning defender booted three goals in the tense two-point victory after the Roos had trailed by 19 in a wet evening at the SCG. But that only tells part of Archer's story from that night. With the side clinging to a tenuous nine-point lead late in the game, Archer crunched first-gamer Lenny Hayes in a boundary-line collision. It was aggressive but calculated, it said ‘don’t mess with us’. It said Glenn Archer. It said North Melbourne.

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7. A come-from-behind win over the Blues

By round 13, the Roos’ season was well and truly back on track after the initial slow start. In a big Saturday night match under lights at the MCG, opponents Carlton were keen to arrest a two-game losing streak and jumped out of the blocks with five of the first six goals of the game. In what was becoming a signature scenario, the Kangaroos had to dig deep to record a ninth straight win. Twelve goals to three after the first change in an efficient team performance did the trick. North finished the round in third place on the ladder by percentage. The Blues were placed just outside the eight just after the halfway point of the season. How important was that 36-point win over the Blues when they next played each other?

8. Good weather for Ducks

The Roos entered the finals in second position with an impressive 17 wins from 22 games. All the while, the spectre of last season’s Grand Final defeat lingered. With that backdrop, a strong start to the finals campaign was crucial. The morning of the final against Port Adelaide at the MCG was wet and miserable. Not for the man they called Duck. Wayne Carey would utterly dominate the Power that day. Six goals, 11 marks and 24 possessions. One particular mark and goal in the third quarter was quintessential Carey. Calling for the ball from Matthew Capuano, Carey’s first lead was initially ignored. He promptly doubled back to the goal square from his position in the forward pocket, lost his haplessly trailing opponent in the process and pulled down a trademark chest mark running with the flight of the ball. Goal. What a player!

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9. Down by eight, enter Corey McKernan

Who could forget Corey McKernan’s starring role in the ruck in the 1996 Grand Final against the Swans, after badly injuring his knee the week prior? That year it was 29 possessions in a bullocking rucking role. In the 1999 decider, the stats sheet was less impressive but the big man was no less impactful. Somewhat surprisingly, the Roos as piping hot favourites trailed Carlton by eight points early in the second quarter. Up stepped Corey. First, a long 60m set shot immediately after a Carlton goal. Moments later, a telling mark and goal over the Blues’ own superman Anthony Koutoufides in the goal square. McKernan had wrested control of the game North Melbourne’s way within a minute. The lead was slender but from here the Kangas would never look back.

10. The siren sounds. Team of the 1990s confirmed.

Six preliminary finals (soon to be seven). Three grand finals. Two flags. North Melbourne’s title as the best team of the decade is confirmed with a 45-point win over Carlton. So many stories and great moments emerge from the Roos’ fourth flag in 25 seasons. Shannon Grant’s four-goal Norm Smith Medal-winning game after two mediocre grand final performances; Anthony Stevens playing with a fracture in his ankle, suffered the previous week; Peter Bell’s outstanding four-goal, 31-possesion game; Mick Martyn’s and David King’s barnstorming runs from defence; Adam Simpson’s emergence as the leader of the Roos’ midfield brigade; Winston Abraham’s gorgeous sidestep and goal to start the third term … the list goes on. A tough, gritty victory, with splashes of brilliance. A fitting, keynote performance from the forever North Melbourne heroes.

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